- I grew up with my low-income father, but when I visited my mother, she always drove a luxury car.
- She couldn’t afford it, but seeing how it made other people treat us made me want to do the same.
- I ended up in deep debt and used drugs until I sobered up and dealt with my mental health and trauma.
I grew up on a low income and that’s one of the main reasons I’ve been so bad with money my entire life. I love my parents, but their lack of financial literacy and the way they spent money caused me to develop some terrible spending habits.
I would not realize until later in life that my mother’s obsession with making it seem like we were doing well would play a role in my spending and debt accumulation.
I was always surprised by my mother’s fancy cars
Today my mom is 17 years sober and helped me get sober 10 years ago. But growing up, she was an alcoholic and married to my former stepfather. He was a high school art teacher, and my mom got her Ph.D. in psychology while working a low-paying job. Although they obviously didn’t make enough money to live an extravagant lifestyle, one would think they were quite wealthy.
My dad raised me but I used to visit them over the school holidays and was always amazed at how many beautiful things they had. Mainly I was shocked by their expensive cars.
My stepfather drove a beautiful Corvette and my mother loved luxury cars. I can’t remember a time in my life when my mother didn’t drive a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW. Part of me knew they didn’t make that much money, but as a kid, our idea of money is still pretty skewed.
It felt good to be part of my mother’s extravagant lifestyle, even though she couldn’t afford it
At some point I noticed how often they fought about money and how they constantly talked about needing expensive things. It was weird for me because I lived with my dad in a small apartment and he drove every old car he could afford until it broke. Their spending was weird, but I also realized that being with them made me feel different — like I wasn’t looked down on by others.
Most of the year I was the lower class kid while all my friends lived in big houses with nice things. I always felt smaller because we didn’t have much, but I didn’t feel that way when I was surrounded by beautiful things when I visited my mother.
I ended up in debt
As I got older and started working, I wanted to keep that feeling; That may be why I’ve had such a strong work ethic my entire life. I wanted to work as hard as possible to make as much money as possible, to buy myself nice things and never be looked down on again. This desire to look wealthy that I inherited from my mother led to debt and more anxiety than I even care to think about.
I wasn’t making nearly as much money as I needed, but I didn’t want anyone to know. Whenever friends wanted to eat out or go to bars and clubs here in Las Vegas, I spent hundreds of dollars on a night I would hardly remember. When my roommates and I were looking for apartments, I was always fine with staying somewhere that was way more expensive than I could afford.
In addition to my expenses, I also struggled with an expensive drug addiction.
I continued to struggle to stay afloat while trying to live this lifestyle and nurture my habit. Eventually I got to the point where I started taking out the worst kinds of loans. I started taking out payday loans that can have interest 40% to 199% for longer loans. That means a $500 loan could cost me $200 to $995 in interest on top of the $500 I originally borrowed.
It was common for me to go to another payday loan to withdraw money to pay off the original loan from another company. I even took out a mortgage on my truck, something I swore I would never do. A title loan is when the company can take your vehicle if you don’t make your payments – not a situation I wanted to be in.
Dealing with my childhood trauma has helped me get my finances under control
When I finally got sober and started working on myself in 2012, I had to do a lot of mental health work that dealt with my childhood trauma, self-esteem, and other issues.
All my life I didn’t understand why I was posing the way I was. All along I just did it to impress others like my mom did. Like my mother, it brought me neither happiness nor fulfillment. It actually made me more unhappy, anxious, and exhausted.
Ever since I started reading about human behavior, I’ve learned the concept of conspicuous consumption. This term comes from the sociologist Thorstein Veblen, who wrote about it in his book: “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” Basically, conspicuous consumption is when we buy things with the intention of showing off our status, and that’s something we all do.
I completely changed my financial life because I realized that I don’t need to impress anyone. Now I only buy things that bring me joy. Whenever I buy something, I stop and ask, “Why am I buying this? Is it for me or for others?”
I even taught this to my son when he felt like he always needed the latest Fortnite skin. He was only 9 or 10 at the time, but it stayed with him. Now this kid can earn his Christmas and birthday bonus for months. He actually has some money left over from last December as I write this in July.
My mother just bought a new Mercedes-Benz, but now that she’s sober and an accomplished psychologist, she can afford it. I don’t know if she managed to impress others, but I’m grateful I was able to break the cycle and help my son avoid the same mistakes.